]Kratom has been widely used as one of the “safe” opioid alternatives that are available and legal. Considered as one of the “millennial” drugs with the likes of Molly (MDMA) and such, kratom has been making headlines lately. In particular, the Federal Drug Administration (FDA) warns that kratom is responsible for 36 deaths. Specifics on these deaths are not disclosed. However, some of the long-term side effects of kratom include liver damage and seizures. Regular kratom users, in response, have insisted that these claims are misleading and overstated. 
Is the truth somewhere in between? Let’s find out…
What exactly is kratom?
More scientifically known as Mitragyna speciose, kratom has a multitude of descriptions, reputations, and most of all opinions. This tropical evergreen tree is in the coffee family. Its origins are Southeast Asia, more specifically Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia, Myanmar, and Papua New Guinea. Kratom can be ingested in powder, capsule, and tea, and there are different strains of this substance based on location. This can slightly vary its effects on the user.
And what exactly are those effects, now that we’ve got the formalities out of the way? This is where it gets interesting. In smaller doses, kratom creates a stimulant effect, much like a mild amphetamine, offering a jolt of energy, alertness, and euphoria. However, at higher doses, kratom provides a more sedating effect, similar to an opioid effect. This provides freedom from anxiety, stress, and a false sense of overall well-being, safety, and love.
The effects of kratom last around 5 to 6 hours, and the onset is about 30-40 minutes after ingestion on an empty stomach. With food in the stomach, this time doubles, although this is all an estimate as it depends on the user and the way they metabolize.
Kratom, with regular use, does, in fact, create a physical dependency and a withdrawal, although there are many claims that this withdrawal is “mild.” Regular users claim it is comparable to a withdrawal from coffee or tea after steady intake of caffeine, where other research seems to point more to a withdrawal similar to that of an opioid detox, which is quite different. The reported effects of kratom withdrawal are craving, muscle pain, yawning, nausea, fatigue, tremors, mood swings, runny nose, and hostility. These are, in fact, similar to an opioid withdrawal.
Long-term side effects are also similar to that of opioids/opiates: constipation, dependency, and addiction. In addition, reported long-term effects include liver damage, seizures, and hyperpigmentation of the cheeks.
Kratom has been reported to have been used since the 1900s for its “therapeutic effect.” Among some of the therapeutic effects are a natural painkiller, anti-diarrheal, and “increased sociability.” In addition, it is reportedly a natural anti-anxiety medication.
The Addict Perspective
Now that we’ve laid out some facts about kratom, or at least what the users report, let’s look at this from an addict’s perspective.
A drug addict needs to walk on eggshells when considering any substance he/she introduces into the body. There are many red flags in here regarding kratom use, both for the addict and anyone else contemplating use. In the interest of considering addiction, we will look at the addict. Kratom is described as having a “mild dependency syndrome.” I have never known a dependency syndrome to be “mild.” Dependence, by nature, is a terrible beast. There are, perhaps, some more horrific in nature than others. By default, dependence is going to cloud the mind and body, creating attachment, and haunting the user. This is all the more prominent for the drug addict, who will have a reaction to this dependence that is life-altering.
With both the effects of the drug and the withdrawal echoing similar qualities of opioid use and withdrawal, the overall experience must be similar.
What we know of addicts is that there is not much choice involved with the amount of any given drug ingested. So if the preferred effect is the mild stimulant quality achieved in smaller doses, it is doubtful that the decision to manage the amount taken will be entirely in control of the user. When a good thing is presented, the immediate need is always “more.” As tolerance develops to any substance in both the drug addict and the average user, the amount needed increases, some quickly, others slowly.
Opioid Alternatives that are “Natural” or “Therapeutic”
Words such as “natural” and “therapeutic” are dangerous. We love to hear we are taking something natural or taking something for the right reasons, “therapeutically.” Let’s take hallucinogenics, for instance. Hallucinogenics have been experimented with, therapeutically, as a treatment for depression, spiritual experiences, clarity, perspective changes, mind expansion, etc. While this research is valid and results are positive, this is not valid proof that hallucinogenics are the right or safe choice for everyone. The term “therapeutic” legitimizes the use of substances to treat any condition, and this issue must be taken into careful consideration.
“Natural” holds a similar association. Natural does not always mean better, as many think. Opium is natural, as is poison ivy. The holistic approach is excellent, but that does not mean in any way natural will protect one from dependency or dangerous effects. This is another loophole used often by addicts to get away with substance use and/or abuse. Supporters of kratom insist the medicinal use of kratom is safe, when used properly and in moderation. Many report long time use of kratom with success. Others insist it can be of use in these times of an opioid epidemic. It is being portrayed as a safe, herbal alternative that could potentially help those dealing with opioid addiction. This might be true to someone that is not an addict, and might be a reason why it was able to get the scientific backing necessary to gain DEA and FDA approval. However, in these times of a prescription drug and opioid crisis, FDA approval does not make a drug safe – not by a long shot.
So you make your own conclusion. Serenity Springs stance is this: if you are seeking opioid alternatives, kratom is not a safe choice and we will continue to firmly discourage the use of kratom!
- Hicks, Jesse. “FDA Warns People Not to Use Kratom, Citing 36 Deaths.” Tonic, 15 Nov. 2017, tonic.vice.com/en_us/article/ne3mdq/fda-kratom-warning-deaths.